Post-Election Violence and Maneuvering
‘ An American soldier was killed Wednesday and another wounded in an ambush north of the capital, the U.S. military said . . . Gunmen ambushed a convoy of Kurdish party officials in Baghdad, killing one and wounding four. And in the southern city of Basra, gunmen killed an Iraqi journalist working for a U.S.-funded TV station and his 3-year-old son as they left their home. On Thursday, a car bomb exploded in central Baghdad, killing at least four people, police and witnesses said. ‘
A roadside bomb in Samarra killed four policemen.
Az-Zaman: Abdul Husain al-Basri, the al-Hurra correspondent, actually wore a lot of hats. He was a member of the Dawa Party and a member of the Basra local council and its public relations officer, as well as being on the editorial board of Basra newspaper. A group called the Brigades of Hasan al-Basri claimed to have carried out the assassination on the grounds of al-Basri’s alleged Iran connection (i.e. the assassins appear to be Sunni Baathists in the south). Hasan al-Basri was one of the earliest Sufis and was a Sunni figure.
Al-Zaman says that Ghazi Ali Ismail, the manager of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad was also assassinated, Wednesday evening. A high Interior Minister official was kidnapped, and an official in the Ministry of Housing was assassinated.
It makes you wonder what the point of electing a new government was if the Americans can’t keep alive the officials of the old one.
The same AP article reports that the Iraqi electoral commission has announced a recount of thousands of ballots to clear up discrepancies and has disqualified larger numbers of ballots for procedural irregularities (not using official ballot boxes, appearance of stuffed ballots, etc.) The recount will delay the announcement of the election results, but it seems pretty clear that the new parliament will have only two really big parties, the religious Shiites and the Kurds.
A highly placed US official in Baghdad told the Chicago Tribune’s Liz Sly that he thought the guerrilla war would go on for many years. As regular readers know, I concur. The old Sunni Arab power elite, mainly Baathists or the officer class, has not reconciled itself to the political ascendancy of the Shiites and Kurds. They still think they can destabilize the country and take back over. I would compare them to the Phalangists, the fascist Maronite Christians in Lebanon, who fought tooth and nail 1975-1989 against recognizing that Christians were no longer a dominant majority in Lebanon. Eventually they had to accept a 50/50 split of seats in parliament (which is generous to the Christians, given that Muslims are now a clear majority). That the Sunni Arab elite might be quicker studies than the Phalangists is possible but a little unlikely.
Likewise, the guerrillas in Iraq have many advantages. They were the managerial class and the officer class, so they have a great deal of organizational know-how. They clearly still have some of the loot the Baathists stole from the Iraqi people, and they know where the missing 250,000 tons of munitions are. If either ran out, there are plenty of Gulf millionnaires who would surreptitiously support a Sunni insurgency against American domination in Iraq. Money is fungible and I don’t think their support could be effectively interfered with (do you know how many nouveau riche millionnaires there are in the Gulf?)
Maneuvering is already beginning in the coming struggle between the Kurdish leadership and the Shiite leadership in the new parliament over the issue of religious law. The Shiite parties that have come to power desperately want it. The Kurds don’t. They will have to compromise with one another if they are jointly to form a government. One solution might be federalism. In the US, the Federal government does not marry people. So Iraqis could let personal status law be a provincial matter, and if the southern Shiites want it they could implement it, whereas if the Kurds in the north don’t, they don’t have to.
The Lebanese Hizbullah is denying that 18 of its members were arrested on charges of terrorism in Iraq. The arrests had been announced by the fanatically anti-Iran interim minister of defense in Iraq, Hazem Shaalan.